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Musings Sermon Starter

Course Correction (maybe)

Image of flat desert with mountains, blue sky, and clouds in the background. In the foreground to the left is a road sign with an arrow curving to the left.

What if we’ve been going about being Christian all wrong, or at least partially incorrect? What if it isn’t about personal salvation at all? What if it’s really about acts of healing (hesed in Hebrew) and acts of mercy (eleos in Greek)? The more I think about this, the more I am convinced that salvation for the “whole of the cosmos” (as John 3:16 says) comes out of our ability to care for ourselves and all our neighbors. This would be embodying Christ in healing and saving ways. Perhaps it’s time we reclaim our communal roots and the goal of tikkun olam, repairing what is broken in the world. This could revitalize the church and make it relevant and vital in the world. If evangelism and soul-saving takes a backseat to acts of loving-kindness, mercy, and reparations, imagine how strong and healthy church could become.

Think about it. Christianity has taken the commandments, the ten given to Moses and the two named by Jesus, to be a kind of moral or pious code of conduct for individuals. To an extent, this is true. And, in a way, this is inadequate. Morality and/or piety do very little for an individual. However, on a communal level, these commandments give guidance for a healthy, safe community. Worship God and not the lesser God’s of our own making. Do not mistreat your neighbors or yourself. Don’t be jealous of your neighbors. Honor your elders. You know, it all comes down to love God, love neighbors, love yourself, and be good stewards of the planet. All this is not meant to elevate the individual. Rather, it is meant to strengthen the community and foster interdependence. Our actions ought not to be guided by a legalistic view of “right” and “wrong” so much as what benefits the larger community.

Several years ago I left a relationship with nothing more than what I could fit in my car. I lived in a friend’s guestroom for 18 months. During that time I was significantly under employed and wasn’t able to find another job. People were generous and caring. My friend let me stay at her house without cost. Other people I barely knew would sometimes hand me money saying things like, “You need this more than I do right now.” And, you know, they didn’t ask me how I spent it; they didn’t care if I paid bills, bought groceries, or went to Starbucks. I was also able to continue in a painting class because the instructor waived the fee asking absolutely nothing in return. What if everyone who fell on hard times was supported by those around them as I was? What if our primary question, as individuals and as communities of faith, became, “How can I/we help my neighbors?” or “How can I share my/our resources?”

I know this sounds idealistic, and I suppose it is. However, shifting the focus of religious practice from the individual to the community could make a real difference in how we are church. Worship would become a celebration of God’s abundance, and a renewal of strength so that the work of the church could continue. Faith formation would be about fostering a sense of being God’s beloved and finding a place in community to best use one’s gifts. How much easier it would be to be a follower of Christ if the church was focused on hesed and eleos to the benefit of all.

Here in the Twin Cities, there are preparations for the trial of Derek Chauvin, the police officer who is responsible for George Floyd’s murder in 2020. Authorities are concerned about the potential for more uprisings. Authorities are trying to prevent protests, marches, rallies from happening in a way that could lead to destruction. Imagine how this would shift if those with power were focused on justice rather than controlling those who have been oppressed for centuries. Surely we can do better than this by setting aside fear, hatred, white supremacy, and our need to otherize. Christians with a communally based identity could potentially shift this power dynamic…

Loving-kindness. Mercy. Repairing what is broken. These are actions the Body of Christ would do well to pay more attention to – communally and as individual members. As I’ve said before, God does not need our help saving souls; God has that covered. God needs our help saving lives by caring for the vulnerable among us and tending to Creation’s wounds.

RCL – Year B – Third Sunday in Lent – March 7, 2021 Exodus 20:1-17  • Psalm 19  • 1 Corinthians 1:18-25  • John 2:13-22

Photo: CC0image by jplenio

Categories
Poetry

The Backside of God: somewhere between prayer and poetry

Image of frost on glass with a blue-gray background with orange light nearer the top
The Backside of God

This season rests heavily upon the earth
pressed down on us with waves of sickness
made unforgettable by loss of life, of livelihood, of loved ones, of safe harbor
driven home by super storms swirling with ever-increasing force
and wild fires devouring acre after acre
letting scorched and scarred earth speak for itself
 
In the daylight I watch sets of leaves fall in synchronous circles
joining the growing, glowing throng of their siblings
when night falls as it does I am startled by
scuttling sounds of leaves chased down the empty street by autumn winds
under the weight of the season I am comforted by the scurrying scuttle
the ordinariness of the sounds
 
Then snow falls out of season, portents of winter yet to come
erasing the memories of rainbows stretching over a muddy river
heightening the distant dogs barking their warnings and welcomings
magnifying the angry neighbors shouting over the opinion of others
lifting up politicians making promises demonizing their opponents, losing sight of democracy
pandemic strengthening its hold, targeting the vulnerable and devalued ones
 
Between autumn and winter, winds blow, storms rage with unfamiliar intensity
God’s absence floods the spaces
between hope and despair,
life and death,
lies and promises,
guilt and liberation,
sickness and healing
 
In the chaos desperation thrives, feeding on anger and hatred, hopelessness and isolation
leaves crunching underfoot give voice to yearning for rest, renewal, a fallow time,
a dormancy that will yield new life in due time
 
In this time between what is and what will be God is present
in the harsh winds and caressing breezes
in the sun, the rain, and the intricacy of each snowflake in season and out
in the frenzy of nut collecting squirrels and the determined dogs seeking to deter themi
in the cat purring on my lap and the geese calling out their journey south
in the rainbows and the rivers
in the space between neighbors where love abides
in the hands that mark ballot ovals
in the healers and hope-bearers
in the prophets and the poets
in the moments of stillness
in the cacophony of nature
in the recognition of Mars shining pink in the night sky
in death and in life
 
Yet, we often fail to notice
mistake stillness for absence
or patient waiting for our attention for a lack of care
 
How often we miss God passing by in every moment!
If we pay attention, we might be lucky enough to catch a hindsight glimpse
of Love
of Glory
of Grace
of Healing
of Hope
of New Life
of Forgiveness
of New beginnings
of kindness
of Justice
of Transformation
 
of an opportunity for us all to live better trusting God’s presence in every moment
honoring God’s desire for us to live in service to all our neighbors
and embody Divine Love when we feel it
and when we don’t
 
If we want to see more than the backside of God
we can take time to read the book of Creation
and look one another in the eyes
 
a moment of Grace is all it takes to discover Christ within us
a moment of stillness is all it takes to discover God around us
a moment of compassion is all it takes to discover the Spirit among us
 
Hindsight is fine
seeking God in the depths, the heights, and the extraordinary in-between
might be better

RCL: Year A Twentieth Sunday After Pentecost October 18, 2020 Exodus 33:12-23 with Psalm 99 or
Isaiah 45:1-7 with Psalm 96:1-9, (10-13)
1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
Matthew 22:15-22

Photo: CC0image by Bonnie Kolarik

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

A Change of Clothing

Image of a hiker overlooking a mountain trail

I’m taking a class on discernment this fall as part of a graduate certificate program in spiritual direction. Up until now I had always considered discernment as the process of making big life decisions and was startled to discover that discernment is best when it is an intentional part of daily life. I say “intentional” because many of us engage in discernment without conscious thought. However, think of the possibilities if we were to all intentionally seek out what God desires for us in every day. I don’t mean in a ritualistic way that can become rote practice. I mean in a way that takes us deep within ourselves to discover the Holy and allows us to draw that holiness out into our daily lives. We would be better equipped to care for our neighbors, ourselves, and the planet.

In the context of discernment, Paul’s words to the church in Philippi make far more sense. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (4:4-7). If we are reaching for the Holy that lies within us every day, then it is easier to connect with the Holy around us. Rejoicing in the Lord always becomes a very real possibility. Then we can pray with gratitude and open the way for peace to flood our lives. It’s not as easy as it is simple, of course. Yet, this speaks to a yearning of my spirit and maybe to yours as well.

These days it is not easy to find peace, and if we find it, it is fleeting. This is likely because we think peace and passivity are linked. However, it is possible to act out of peacefulness. It is possible to be guided by passion and cling to the peace that Paul wrote about. Even in pandemic, it is possible to seek peace in our lives and offer peace to our neighbors. The key is to avoid getting caught up in the fear and chaos that abounds.

Remember the Israelites in their desert wanderings? As soon as Moses was gone from them for a few days they demanded that Aaron make a god they could see and touch. While I don’t think many of us are creating golden calves, we are often lured away to worship gods of our own making. These are the gods that thrive on fear and chaos and gain power in our distress. The path to worshiping these demanding gods is much easier to follow than the path of the God who desires us to be at peace in ourselves and in the world. Is it possible for any of us to sit still long enough to (re)discover the holiness that is our very core? Is it possible for us to pull away from the chaos and fear that so easily grasps our attention and focus on what is good and kind and beneficial to all?

I think so. Jesus certainly believed it was possible. Why tell the parable of the wedding banquet if Jesus didn’t believe that we are capable of seeking what is good? We have been invited to a feast and we often fail to attend. When we are summoned, when we feel the pull of the Spirit, it is best we follow. There is a seat at the table for all. However, we cannot go clothed with our ego and our own desires. We must go with clothed with the peace of Christ, with humility, with love. It is better we ignore the invitation than go without the proper clothing.

Discernment, looking for the pull of the Spirit, seeking the banquet invitation, is a daily activity the deserves more of our attention. We might find ourselves in strange company if we genuinely ask what God would have us do on a daily basis. We might discover that we have a whole new wardrobe to wear as we offer ourselves in service to our neighbors, to God. Isn’t it time we leave behind the ways of idol worship? We need not wander in the wilderness of fear, anxiety, hatred, or violence any longer. There is truly a better way. I intend to seek it out. Will you join me?

RCL – Year A – Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost – October 11, 2020
Exodus 32:1-14 with Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23 or
Isaiah 25:1-9 with Psalm 23
Philippians 4:1-9
Matthew 22:1-14

Photo: CC0image by Dariusz Staniszewski

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

Learning and Growing in the Wilderness

Image of earth viewed from space with grid points of light connected across the globe

In recent days I’ve witnessed people romanticizing their past in ways I don’t quite understand. There was the person who continues to grieve over parents, stating that they were “the best” parents and how much they are missed. I know for a fact that these people were not good parents and caused a lot of harm in the world. Another person was lamenting the end of their marriage and saying how much they missed the relationship and all the “good” it brought. In fact, it was not a good relationship at all and caused a good deal of pain. And then there are the many people longing for the days “before pandemic” as if they were perfect days where love, peace, and justice reigned over the world. I don’t think I will ever understand what it is that causes people to forget the hard parts of their history and glorify the better parts. However, it’s a long-standing human behavior.

Remember the Israelites right after they crossed the Red Sea and found themselves in the wilderness? They were angry. They wished they had died in Egypt where they had fire, fleshpots, and bread. They were unhappy with the emptiness in their bellies and focused on that rather than on their new-found freedom. They quickly came to believe that the God who led them out of slavery had abandoned them to the challenges of the wilderness. Instead of asking for what they needed, instead of looking for God’s presence among them, they complained to Moses and regretted their choice to follow him away from the comforts of Egypt where they had been slaves into the discomforts and unknowns of liberation. Fortunately for them, God heard their complaints and provided manna and pheasants (they would later complain about these).

Here we are in the midst of pandemic, a wilderness of unknowns and discomforts for sure. The challenge for us as church is not to romanticize the past and long for when we can get back to “normal.” This wandering we are doing now will lead us to a new place. We must remember that before pandemic life was not perfect for the church. Our numbers were on the decline, our budgets were tighter every year, our technology was barely adequate, our buildings were needing repairs and updates… the list goes on. The complaints about Zoom worship, Facebook live, YouTube Live, and all the other ways we try to meet the needs of our communities, are a distraction and no real difference from the days when the sound system didn’t work or the projector overheated. Our longing for what was (in our own romanticized recollections) may prevent us from seeing what God is doing right here, right now.

Online worship, education, and kinship activities in whatever form provides access to folx who might not be able to join us in person for a variety of reasons. For those of us who are offering online communion, the complaints that it doesn’t “feel like communion” could distract from the ways in which God is drawing us together across miles. And what does communion feel like? Yes, we are all missing the in-person gatherings. It’s true. That missing of being with people does not need to negate the beauty and wonder of our online gatherings. We can grieve for what was and embrace what is.

The more we look back with the proverbial rose-colored glasses the more we will miss in the present. What are the manna and quail of our wandering in the wilderness of pandemic? Are they the wonders of technology that allows us to gather online? Are they the beauty of being able to expand our welcome? Are they the renewed appreciation for community? Are they the generosity of folx who provide tech access to those who didn’t have it before? Let’s not mistake grieving for what was for a longing that recreates the past to meet our own needs in this moment. God is in our midst and still doing the liberating, the leading, the transforming that God has always done.

Friends, there will be no going back. Just as those ancient Israelites could not return to Egypt in spite of their longing for fires and food, the church cannot go back to what was. This life in the wilderness of pandemic, no matter how long it goes on or how soon it ends, will forever change us. Perhaps we should spend our time searching out where God is active now and seek that vision for our future that God has for us. May we lean into the liberation from the limits of our buildings, the leading into a new shape for the Body of Christ, and the transformation of our communities that God is doing. Let us not grumble about what was and embrace what is. After all, our histories have shown us that there is far worse than manna and quail by whatever name.

RCL – Year A – Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 20, 2020
Exodus 16:2-15 with Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45 or
Jonah 3:10-4:11 with Psalm 145:1-8
Philippians 1:21-30
Matthew 20:1-16

Photo: CC0image by Inactive account – ID 9301

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Musings Sermon Starter

Suicide Prevention: Embodying Love, Forgiveness, and Mercy

Image: square of sunlight shining through a dark tunnel

As I write, I am aware that September is National Suicide Prevention Month and September 10th is World Suicide Prevention Day. It’s the prefect time to talk about God’s love, forgiveness, and mercy and how they save lives, or could if congregations could grasp hold of them in meaningful, transformative ways.

Let’s start with the story of the Israelites escaping Egypt. This is a familiar story. We know that God heard the people’s cry and sent Moses and Aaron to free them from Pharaoh’s oppressive rule, a Pharaoh who did not know Joseph. After a series of plagues, the Israelites follow Moses and cross the Red Sea. Pharaoh’s army is washed out. It’s a powerful story of God’s liberating love, without question. If we look closer, there are also some indications of how God continues to work in our lives.

The angel of God who was going before the Israelite army moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and took its place behind them.It came between the army of Egypt and the army of Israel. And so the cloud was there with the darkness, and it lit up the night; one did not come near the other all night.

Exodus 14:19-20

Notice that the angel, the cloud, moves from the position of leading out of oppression to the position of protector from the persuers. It’s the next verse that I find particularly compelling. The cloud was there with the darkness. In the midst of the fleeing, the fear, the chaos, the literal dark of night, the cloud was there and it provided light, safety, guidance, protection, and hope. It kept the dark from being all there was. What a powerful metaphor for the Body of Christ today. If we could be the presence that is there with the darkness, the despair, the hopelessness, the depression, the chaos, then we, as church, could be the beacon that keeps the gaping maw of total despair at bay. If we could be the embodiment of the liberating God who offers love, forgiveness, and mercy without judgement or condition, we could save lives. Imagine the church as the cloud, the messenger of God, that can lead out of oppression and protect from the oppressive forces. There would be hope for all, especially those who struggle with suicidality.

If this story is not sufficient for how the church could be a powerful witness while in the midst of all that is life-destroying in this world, there are others. Think of the story of Joseph. He was thrown into a pit by his brothers and sold into slavery. When he could have become embittered and held onto anger, he offered forgiveness to his brothers. He recognized that while his brothers had intended harm, God transformed Joseph situation into something good and lifesaving. We can learn much from this story.

We can see that we should not look down on those caught in the “pits” of today’s world. It’s not like they fell into the depths on their own. While their literal siblings might not have been the ones to discard them, they were definitely discarded. Also, we never know whom God will pick to do great things, even those who have been sold out by others who ought to know better.

And then there is the forgiveness piece. Joseph modeled how God forgives us – without condition. It was enough for Joseph that his brothers came with humility seeking his help. God requires even less than that. Of course, we cannot find God’s forgiveness and live it out if we do not go seeking it with humility. So, too, for our congregations. We need to approach God like Joseph’s brothers, acknowledging that we are responsible for the pits of society; if we didn’t help dig them, we’ve not done all that we could to fill them in. While we are seeking God’s forgiveness, we also need to be offering it much more freely. If God forgives without condition, the church should be like Joseph was with his brothers and be profligate with forgiveness.

Just imagine how a forgiving community could change the life of someone who lives with tremendous guilt and shame over things that they have done or things that have been done to them. A word of forgiveness, an act of merciful acceptance, can save lives when offered with sincerity. For the person who lives with symptoms of mental illness, especially suicidality, a reminder of God’s forgiveness embodied by a community has more power than most of us recognize.

Jesus was clear on the power and importance of giving and receiving forgiveness. You know, “forgive seventy-seven times” meaning as many times as necessary. If we believe that we are loved without condition, then we must work toward accepting God’s unconditional forgiveness. It’s imperative that we do this. There are people in this world who are desperate for hope, desperate for the presence of God to be with them, illuminating a way through the hopelessness, promising liberation and protection. People who experience suicidality are unlikely to encounter God’s presence because depression lies and blocks out everything except one’s own utter lack of worth. If we want to save lives, then we must embody Divine Love, demonstrating unconditional forgiveness, and offering continuous mercy.

No one is exempt from suicidal thoughts, especially now in this time of pandemic. While we work toward living into God’s vision of love, forgiveness, and mercy, let’s take time to equip ourselves to save lives. Learn the risks for suicide, the warning signs, and the resources in your community and denomination. Hopelessness, depression, anxiety, and suicide are all on the rise. When we embody God’s love without conditions, we save lives. When we talk about mental illness and suicidality in our churches, we save lives. This is the work that God has set before us in 2020 – to do all that we can to save lives. We have work to do. Yet, we do not go alone. There is a Light that shines with us all and nothing can extinguish it. It is our guide and our protector. May we all live lives of love, forgiveness, and mercy so that our churches may be lifesaving.

Image: Text HOME to 741741 for crisis support in the U.S.
Image: Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255

For more about being a Lifesaving Church.

RCL – Year A – Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 13, 2020
Exodus 14:19-31 with Psalm 114
or Exodus 15:1b-11, 20-21
Genesis 50:15-21 with Psalm 103:(1-7), 8-13
Romans 14:1-12
Matthew 18:21-35

Top Photo: CC0image by Rúben Gál

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

Be Barefoot with Moses, Paul, and Jesus

Image: crowd of protestors carrying signs for Black Lives Matter and anti-racism

Anyone remember the story of Moses and the burning bush? It isn’t really the cute children’s story we might have learned in Sunday School. And it isn’t one of those stories that had meaning then and is unclear for today. With the shooting of Jacob Blake last week and the Uprisings in Minneapolis last night, we need to revisit that story that has become too familiar to us. There’s a message in there that we need right now.

As you may remember, Moses was minding Jethro’s sheep one day when a voice called to him out of a bush that was burning but not being consumed by the fire. Moses was not looking to disrupt his complacent, ordinary life. For all we know, he liked tending his father-in-law’s sheep. God had other plans for him, though. He had to take his shoes off because the ground under his feet was holy (and it’s harder to run away when you are barefoot). God proceeded to tell Moses that it was time for him to go to Pharaoh and tell him to set the people of God free.

Note Moses’ response here. He basically said, “Why me? I’m nobody. Shouldn’t somebody else go?” Like most of us in the world today, if we happen to hear God’s voice calling us, nudging us, to go confront the Pharaoh or his agents, Moses begged off. We know that the story ends with Moses going to confront Pharaoh and eventually freeing the Israelites. What if it hadn’t? What if Moses walked on by? What if he just said, “Nope, not me”? and lived his life as a shepherd of sheep rather than a leader of people? Would God have called someone else? Did God try others before Moses agreed?

Back to today. What if every moment of discomfort we white folx experience when we read or hear the news of police shooting another black man or police responding to protestors with violence or police pepper spraying media is actually God reminding us that the ground under our feet is holy? What if, instead of turning away while wishing this unrest would all go away, we actually took off our shoes and stayed a while, listening to what God might be calling us to do? You know, starting with the judgement about “those people” who are Uprising? If you’re like me, meaning white, then you really don’t know what it is like to live under systemic oppression (white supremacy) for four hundred years. We really have no idea what it feels like to be treated as “less than” from one generation to the next. If we did, we might be tempted to unleash some rage as well when police act out of their racism and harm or kill people who have the same color skin we do.

Then once we’ve stopped judging and started to empathize, at least a little, then we can also stop defending the police. There is no excuse for shooting black people… in their cars… on the sidewalks… in front of their families… No excuse for kneeling on their necks…. doing nothing while they cannot breathe… God is asking us to free God’s people from Pharaoh’s ways. God is asking you and me to go to Pharaoh now. No excuses. We are needed because the police officers aren’t going to be taking their shoes off any time soon. Pharaoh has them trained too well.

Still not convinced this is a reasonable interpretation of the burning bush story? Okay. How do you feel about Paul and what he had to say in Romans? Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; Love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Paul is pretty clear in how we should act and how we should treat one another. Loving all our neighbors is Christian mandate. Hating evil means hating white supremacy and all the racist systems it sustains. Hating evil does not mean hating people who are not white. Wouldn’t it be more in keeping with God’s laws if we tried to outdo one another in showing honor? These days, showing honor looks an awful lot like the abolition of police and voting for change come November. There are too many people dying because Pharaoh and those in his service fear change – change that means equity and justice for all of humanity.

If you still aren’t convinced that God does not endorse systemic racism and is heartbroken by the white nationalist conflation of white supremacy and Christianity, how about that time Jesus called Peter Satan? Peter just wanted Jesus to turn away from Jerusalem where his fight with Empire would surely end in his death. Peter wanted Jesus to follow an easier path. Jesus was tempted. Why else would he call Peter “Satan” while telling him to get away? Yes, if we commit to fighting the Empire and it’s oppression, then we will be tempted by easier paths. It’s best if we take our shoes off so we cannot run away.

With our feet bare and our hearts open, may we burn with the passion for justice, burn but not be consumed so that we may actively seek to set ALL God’s people free.

If you are looking for sermon help, try here.

RCL – Year A – Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost – August 30, 2020
Exodus 3:1-15 with Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c or
Jeremiah 15:15-21 with Psalm 26:1-8
Romans 12:9-21
Matthew 16:21-28

Photo: CC0image by

Categories
Poetry

A Conversation with Jesus

Image of face overlaid with shadows of trees on a background of red, rippling water
in a Roman stronghold, You asked your first disciples
     a seemingly simple question
yet You asked them to put their lives on the line for You
their answers could be, should be
      treasonous to the ears of the Empire

Who do you say that I am?

a worthy question, even now, especially now
we live in another Empire with a Pharoah who does not know Joseph
and would enslave us all, try us for treason if he could
Your question hangs in the air, awaiting our answers

Who do you say that I am?

You are the Messiah, of course
the One who sets us free
and saves our souls
Messiah

what does this mean for children in cages, families torn apart?
what does this mean for immigrants, refugees, assylum seekers,
all who come with hopes and dreams for a life of freedom
and are met with white supremacy, racism, and rejection?

Who do you say that I am?

You are the Prince of Peace
the One who guides our feet
in the ways of justice
Prince of Peace

our lips may speak these words
our actions say otherwise
there is no peace without justice
ask George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmoud Arbery
     and counteless others

Who do you say that I am?

You are the Great Physician, Healer of the Nations
the One who makes us whole
and unites us in love
Great Physician

there is no evidence of this truth
in a nation that values perfection over wholeness and wealth
     over people
where is unity for those on the edges, devalued and dismissed
     by Empire?

Who do you say that I am?

You are the Living Water
the One who quenches thirst
and brings new life
Living Water

then why are so many so very thirsty
in Flint, at the border, on our streets?
why withhold water for the poorest
when we have more than enough

Who do you say that I am?

Lord and Savior
the One who saves us from ourselves
and frees us to love without condition
Lord and Savior

again, where is the proof?
we act as if Love were a precious commodity
and hoard it for ourselves because Empire tells us
there is not enough for those who are undeserving

Who do you say that I am?

Light of life
the One who shines with hope
chasing away our despair
Light of Life

then why not wear a mask to show our love for our neighbors?
why not welcome all with grace and mercy?
suicide rates are climbing and we refuse to share our hope
perhaps our trust, our faith, is not up for the task at hand

Who do you say that I am?

Wonderful Counselor
the One who guides life
offering wisdom, healing, grace
Wonderful Counselor

is it not Empire that guides our choices?
is it not Empire that teaches us to hate?
is it not Empire that divides us from our neighbors?
when will we listen and actually care for the vulnerable among us?

Who do you say that I am?

Mighty God
the One who loves without condition
waiting patiently for us to believe
Mighty God

Love knows no limits
hatred, destruction, division, violence, war are purely human
perhaps now is the time for transformation
paying heed to the prophets among us

Who do you say that I am?

be careful how you answer
do your words match your deeds?
do you love your neighbor as yourself?
do you follow the ways of Empire
rather than care for the vulnerable among you?
will you put your life on the line
for the sake of love?

Who do you say that I am?

RCL – Year A – Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost – August 23, 2020
Exodus 1:8-2:10 with Psalm 124 or
Isaiah 51:1-6 with Psalm 138
Romans 12:1-8
Matthew 16:13-20

Photo: CC0image by Gerd Altmann

Categories
Musings Sermon Starter

Jesus, a Woman, a Well, and COVID-19

It’s been about a hundred years since the last pandemic – the Spanish Influenza of 1918. In the U.S., at least, we have grown accustomed to being relatively safe from widespread outbreaks of viruses. The AIDS epidemic is most recent in our memories, and as awful as that was it was not a pandemic. The coronavirus – COVID-19 – has been declared a pandemic which is causing panic everywhere. Panic isn’t helpful, though. Preparation is more useful and less exhausting.

The word “pandemic” means “all people.” While considered in the context of a potentially deadly virus, this is scary. However, as people of faith we ought to be used to thinking in terms of all people. All people will be involved as this virus spreads also means all people can be involved in preparations and preventative measures. We don’t have to continue to wait for the federal government’s inadequate and unhelpful response. As the Body of Christ, our concern is for all people. There are things we can do. We might be in a wilderness season, but we are not alone.

First, let us look at the story about Jesus meeting the woman at the well in Samaria. We know this story. The woman was an outcast even among outcasts. She had had five husbands and was living with another man who was not her husband. She was at the well in the bright heat of the noonday in order to avoid contact with others in the village. She wasn’t expecting anyone to be there, especially not a rabbi on his own. The interaction between Jesus and this unknown woman changed her. She drank deeply of the living water Jesus offered. As a result a whole village full of people became followers of Jesus on her say so.

What can this passage tell us in these early days of this pandemic? One is that Living Water will not be changed by a virus. God will still be present and moving through the world as God has always done. Another is that social distancing, as is encouraged by the CDC and other experts, does not mean we have to be alone or that God abandons us. We do not need to emotionally and spiritually distance ourselves from one another. The Samaritan woman that Jesus met that day was believed to be ritually unclean and so others kept away from her. Keeping the recommended three feet away from people gathered in public places ought not to make us fearful of others in a way that furthers any sense of isolation. We can make eye contact and talk with people. We can remain unafraid to help our neighbors when they have need.

While the Samaritan woman didn’t have access to social media to curb her feelings of being unwanted and unwelcomed, we do. We can continue to be Church through creative uses of our resources. We can have worship online. We can create small groups of care partners who can remain in contact through video chat or phone or even in person if everyone is well. Perhaps we can use this opportunity to learn new ways of embodying Christ. Fear does not have to be our constant companion. We can drink more deeply of the Living Water and remember that God’s love knows no boundaries. I’ll say it clearly because others are suggesting the opposite: this virus is not a punishment for sin nor God’s comment on poverty. A God who is Love would not and does not unleash viruses on God’s people. God will remain present and loving through all that is to come.

In the meantime, let’s try not to be like the Israelites in the desert with Moses. Let’s try to avoid crying out to God and asking why we are thirsty, or hungry, or lost. Let’s try to be intentional in our preparations so that no one feels forgotten, isolated, or alone in the days to come. Let’s be mindful of the vulnerable among us who might need extra care and consideration as fear and anxiety increase. Let’s stay informed with facts over fears. Perhaps we can even learn to sing to the Lord in new ways. The only way we are going to get through this is together. We need one another even if there has to be three feet between each of us.

So you can see that I practice what I preach, here is a copy of the brief letter I wrote to my congregation:

As of Wednesday, COVID-19 has been declared a pandemic. This means that it involves all people everywhere. While this increases anxiety, we are not entirely powerless. We will continue to be the Body of Christ and love our neighbors as ourselves.

 As of now, we plan to have Sunday School and worship as usual on Sunday. We will use food safety precautions for preparing the bread for communion and any food for kinship. Communion will be served using tongs so no hands touch the bread. We will not share the cup but will be invited to write down ways in which we will share Divine Love in the world and place the paper in a symbolic cup.

Please stay at home if you have any symptoms of illness. Also remember that the CDC recommends that people over 60 and those with compromised immune systems should stay at home. 

It is very likely that by March 22nd we will have services, meetings, Bible studies, and Sunday school entirely online. More information on this will be available early next week. We have created small groups to help people stay connected. 

Here is a two minute video on the basics: https://youtu.be/TjcoN9Aek24

These are two good links to check for updates on the coronavirus: https://www.health.state.mn.us/diseases/coronavirus/index.html

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html

Also, if you are prone to worrying or anxiety, you may want to limit your exposure to broadcast news and social media. 

Remember that by taking care of ourselves, we are taking care of our neighbors. By limiting our exposure to group gatherings we are caring for the vulnerable among us. We remain the Body of Christ whether we are gathered or scattered. God’s love for us does not change. This pandemic will continue to change our daily lives, and God will continue to be present with us through all that is to come.

UPDATE: Council voted on Thursday evening, after monitoring news outlets, to suspend all in-person gatherings until further notice.

RCL – Year A – Third Sunday in Lent – March 15, 2020
Exodus 17:1-7
Psalm 95
Romans 5:1-11
John 4:5-42

Photo: CC0image by Mystic Art Design

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Musings Sermon Starter

A Glimpse of Glory

Have you ever caught a glimpse of God’s glory? Maybe it didn’t cover a whole mountain top or brighten up anyone’s appearance. Maybe that brief look at something holy just made your eyes shine with awe-filled tears or made the light of hope visible amidst the struggle. Maybe God’s glory is present all the time and we just don’t recognize it or don’t notice it until the circumstances are just right.

Moses went up a mountain to spend time alone with God. The Israelites saw fire on that mountain top from their place in the valley. A fire that left Moses’ face all aglow. But think of how it is that Moses came to be on that mountain top alone with God. He had led the people out of Egypt into the desert where resources were scarce. No doubt the people were growing restless as God was working out God’s covenant with the people and Moses was the go-between. How many times did Moses go up the mountain to talk with God? There were a few and we know at least once he came back down to a people who had already turned to another god. Moses needed every sparkle, glow, ray of light that God’s glory left with him. And the people maybe should have remembered that “devouring fire” a bit longer than they did.

Yet, in spite of what would remain on Moses’ face, the people couldn’t hold onto God’s glory very long. They couldn’t keep in their minds the fact that God liberated them from Egypt and wouldn’t abandon them in the desert. They wanted God with them all the time in some visible way, but not the way that dazzled their eyes. God’s glory, when viewed directly, affects the beholder’s vision. For a brief moment, Glory is all that can be taken in. Everything else literally pales by comparison. Yet, somehow, Glory fades from memory more quickly than most things.

By the time Jesus shows up, the events on Mount Sinai were long past. Perhaps the power contained in the stories had faded a bit. So one day Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up a mountain. They needed a little time away from the growing opposition to Jesus, or maybe from the crowds that gathered wherever they went. Things had been happening and Peter, James, and John could barely recognize their lives since they started following Jesus. And the debate about whether or not Jesus was the Messiah had to be exhausting, not to mention the fact that there were groups of people who wanted Jesus dead. Sure, a trip up a mountain for some alone time was a welcomed idea.

They had no way of preparing themselves for what they saw up there. Jesus transfigured (metamorphosized in the Greek) along with Moses and Elijah – glowing, garments and all, with a brightness that human hands could not produce. Peter at least recognized the sacredness of the moment and wanted to build tabernacles to mark the occasion, the holy presence. Before he could finish describing his plans, the voice from heaven had something to say. Then fear took over and they fell to the ground. I wonder if their own faces had a bit of glow about them in those moments.

When it was all over, Jesus got them to their feet and led them down the mountain. Were they silent about what they had just experienced? I doubt it. I think they were all babbling, talking over each other, trying to capture the experience with words. Then Jesus told them to stop. They could talk about it all later when it might make more sense to them. They had just had a close encounter with the glory of God and they would realize the power of it at some point.

Here’s the thing. I think we have managed to close off ourselves to the experiences of God’s glory. When we are exhausted and troubled by life’s events, we don’t necessarily take ourselves away to a mountain top or some other quiet place. We don’t necessarily think about removing some of the clutter between us and God. So when God’s glory shines, it’s filtered through a whole lot of stuff, and we might miss it. Or, more likely, call it by another name.

I’m not suggesting that we will see mountain tops devoured by holy fire or long-dead prophets hanging out with Jesus if the circumstances were right. What I am suggesting is that we will see the light of Divine Love shining in ordinary places, everyday faces, if we pay more attention. We don’t need to be able to explain everything or understand all that is. It’s okay to live in the Mystery and know that God still claims us as Beloved. Even in the midst of science and technology and so much information, the Holy is still a Mystery and sometimes that Mystery shines brilliantly on our tired, scared, confused little lives to give us hope and remind us of the promise of Love.

RCL – Year A – Transfiguration – February 23, 2020
Exodus 24:12-18
Psalm 2 or Psalm 99
2 Peter 1:16-21
Matthew 17:1-9

Photo: CC0image by Johannes Plenio

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Musings Sermon Starter

Toward a Worthy Life

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“Live a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called,” writes the author of Ephesians. I can’t help but wonder if we have all forgotten that we are supposed to be living a life worthy of the love and grace we have been given. I don’t see much evidence of people striving to live in ways worthy of all that we have been given. We are lost, more so than the ancient Israelites ever were. We look back at history and don’t even recognize where and how we’ve been held in captivity. Instead, we long for what used to be good, or at least enough. The manna is dry and the quail is tough. Life used to be so much better back before all this chaos and pain. It’s as though we are in the desert with Moses and only thinking that in Egypt our bellies were full while choosing not to remember the taskmasters who left misery in their wake.

The current Administration wants to “Make America Great Again” and the church wants to recreate the attendance and activity levels of the 1950s. How can we possibly hold up only what we think of as “good” about the past and just bypass all that was awful? At no point in church history has the church lived in a way worthy of its calling. Yes, there have been individuals, those bright prophetic lights of hope, but on the whole we have hunkered down and sought to preserve our way of doing things. Our history is riddled with fear and hatred. Do we really want to go back there?

Jesus promised that hunger and thirst would end for all who followed him. The problem is that we have been poor followers. We’ve picked who we will love and who we will condemn. We routinely marginalize those who are different from us or who make us feel uncomfortable. Worse yet, we run to scripture and take a verse or two out of context and use them to justify the mistreatment of others. Where is the unity of body and spirit?

Over the last few days, I’ve read through the hundreds of names of people fatally shot by police since January of 2015. It is deeply distressing. In the area where I live, eight People of Color have been killed by police in the last three and a half years, the last one on June 23, 2018. Some of them were completely unarmed. Some were mentally ill. All were innocent of capital crimes. None of the police officers involved were charged. Hundreds of people have gathered in protest and at rallies to demand justice. At the same time, too many times church folks have complained about the inconvenience of roads shut down or disruption to community events. How have we failed to see the body broken and blood poured out right before our eyes?

In Ephesians we read the beautiful image of the church as one body, “joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.” Will the day ever arrive when we are able to live this way? Will we ever be able to love as Jesus loves? White privilege and white supremacy have no business in the body of Christ. Have we forgotten that Jesus had a brown body? Have we forgotten that all the prophets and people of faith who came before Jesus, had brown bodies? How many bodies have to be broken, how much more blood needs to spill before we recognize that we are living lives very far from the lives to which we have been called?

God has told us again and again what is required of us. God has given us clear demonstrations of how we are to live. God has covered us with grace and wrapped us with fierce, steadfast love. Yet, we resist. We tell ourselves that our history was perfect and glorious and life will be wonderful if we can go back to what was. That didn’t work for the Israelites and it won’t work for us. Do we really want to go back to the 1950’s? Think of what we would not have in society and in our churches. Think of all that remained hidden behind closed doors, strings of pearls, valium, and martinis. That was a time of great fear and anxiety hidden behind rules and routine. If you are a person of color, a woman, an LGBTQ+ person, a person with mental illness, or a person with a disability there is nothing to go back to and nothing worth recreating.

We all come to the same table. We eat the bread of life and drink from the cup of blessing. Perhaps the time has come for us to lead one another out of the desert. We can stop looking back at a whitewashed history with nostalgic longing and, instead, look to the present and future. We have an opportunity to do something the church has yet to do. We can unite as one body to demand justice for those bodies still being broken. We can be the ones who proclaim love and show the power of God’s continued presence. We can hold hands with all our neighbors and move forward into a future that is defined by love and grace rather than fear and hatred. It isn’t too late. We can live lives worthy of our calling, lives that value and respect all of our neighbors, near and far. It’s time to move out of the desert and leave all false memories of Egypt behind.

RCL – Year B – Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost – August 5, 2018
2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a with Psalm 51:1-12 or
Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15 with Psalm 78:23-29
Ephesians 4:1-16
John 6:24-35

Photo: CC0 image by pexels